petite anglaise

March 14, 2008


Filed under: book stuff — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:15 am

Until last week, I was terrified at the prospect of giving a reading. Recording a blog post for Woman’s Hour was one thing (I’m going to keep on mentioning that for ages, yes, because I’m still reeling from the shock of saying “ring sting” on air), reading from petite anglaise was another thing entirely.

A few months ago, I happened to be in London on the very day that a Society of Authors seminar on “Giving a Reading” was held. I decided to sign up – thinking it would be interesting to check out their offices and meet a few people, if nothing else – and found myself in a room filled with twenty or so other authors. Some had penned fiction, others memoirs, history books or film scripts. Their ages ranged from twenty-five to eighty. We were united, however, by our collective fear of public speaking.

That day the speaker gave us lots of very good advice. Instead of reading one long passage (which might send your audience to sleep), you can pick several short ones, she suggested. That way you can give people a taste of different types of writing: some description, some dialogue, some action. Several amuse-bouche appetisers instead of one large entrée: a good way to whet people’s appetites. She also pointed out that if there’s a word or phrase you cringe at when reading aloud, or a sentence which simply doesn’t work when read out of its context, you can cross it out. It’s your book. You can do whatever you like.

There followed an excruciating hour where each participant read a short passage aloud and the rest of the group gave some constructive criticism about what could be done to improve things. There were those who swayed from side to side, those who buried their heads in their books, never daring to glance up. Those who mumbled, and those who read at fifty miles an hour in voices flattened by nerves to an expressionless monotone. I made the mistake of choosing a highly emotional passage – the book’s prologue – and lost my voice halfway through, soldiering on to the end in a stage whisper. The stunned silence at the end of my reading I put down to the fact that it must have been quite unsettling for my audience to see me reading on the verge of tears.

So when I gave my first public reading at York library, ten days ago, I’d given quite a lot of thought to how to avoid repeating that disastrous performance. I was stomach-churningly nervous – my ravaged cuticles and peeling bottom lip bore witness – but, having spent most of that day running from photo session to interview to photo session to TV studio, before leaping onto a train (Leeds-York) just an hour before my reading was due to start, I didn’t have too much time to dwell on my fear, let alone practise my spiel. I arrived at the library with only twenty minutes to spare, and allowed the organiser to pour me a large glass of wine (Arrogant Frog – an inspired choice) in an attempt to calm my nerves.

Once everyone had filed in and taken a seat, I gave a brief introduction then read four short passages from the light-hearted opening chapters of the book, introducing my love affair with all things French, the character of Mr Frog and the birth of the blog. It went pretty well, I thought, even if I found it tricky to raise my eyes from my book (the sight of my grandma, beaming on the front row, was a little off-putting). I even managed to get a few laughs – the scene where I meet Mr Frog was a lot of fun to read – and the consensus seemed to be that it had gone rather well. Once the questions from the floor had been dispensed with, I took out my special signing pen and had fun writing little messages in people’s books.

I did however decline my first ever request to sign a pair of white buttocks.


If you happen to be in Paris next Thursday (March 20th) and can make it to WH Smiths on rue de Rivoli at 7.30 pm, you will be able to see me give a repeat performance.

To enable the organisers to make adequate provision of alcoholic beverages, I urge you to sign up by sending an RSVP email. The event is free, and if you have already got a copy of the book, you are welcome to bring it along. If you’d like to purchase a book on the night, WH Smiths have ordered in copies of the proper UK hardback version especially (instead of the oversized export paperback some of you may have seen in Paris), which is much much lovelier, in my opinion.

Once I’ve got the reading bit out of the way (it will be mercifully short, as there are in excess of 80 people signed up, and therefore there will be no room for chairs) I will be free to answer questions, scribble inanely in books, drink wine and mingle until about 9.30pm. If you can’t make it to the first part, feel free to pop along afterwards.

See you there?


  1. It was the wine that saved you and made you sparkle! Wine is not alcohol – which is what the French have been saying for years – it is medicine for the body. (What I have been saying it for years). Wine makes the tongue looser and the brain cells snap much faster. It is also a fat-burning elixir of youth. Just this week I have been getting over a bug and couldn’t shake it until I realised I hadn’t drunk my usual amount of wine so last night I had a large glass and today I am cured. I had a similar experience to yours a few months back when I had to go on the local radio here in Geneva to talk about my blog and I was practically hyperventilating. I didn’t drink any wine because, I kept foolishly telling myself, it was ONLY 10 in the morning! It went fine but I am much livelier, funnier, more ME with wine in my blood. Sod the hour next time I will that is for sure.

    Comment by — March 14, 2008 @ 10:46 am

  2. Petite: You are right, your reading at York library was pretty perfect – well-chosen excerpts, read at a reasonable pace with different intonation and some eye contact with audience. I wish I could come to Paris to get a repeat performance (and I, too prefer those oversize paperbacks) but helas…
    Enjoy your evening.

    Comment by Anna — March 14, 2008 @ 10:52 am

  3. So what colour buttocks have you signed?

    Comment by Salvadore Vincent — March 14, 2008 @ 11:01 am

  4. Oy, Bossy agrees. Bossy can’t even read to her own hypothalamus. Great luck!

    Comment by BOSSY — March 14, 2008 @ 12:31 pm

  5. Petite, you know I was originally definitely planning on attending, and had actually even RSVPed to Smith’s about the reading, but as it turns out I have some, ergh, university function that I seem to have committed myself to — and FORGOTTEN about! — in the interim… (I really need to start keeping a planner/agenda of some sort — but whenver I’ve tried to do so in the past, it’s gone unused…) In any case, I am going to plan on stopping by for the latter part of the evening, like you mentioned at the end — at least that way perhaps I’ll get to see you when you’re relaxed the the stressful reading part is behind you!

    Looking forward to it. Will just be a shame to miss you reading from your book!

    Comment by Alice — March 14, 2008 @ 12:58 pm

  6. Is there any chance to have a reading in Dublin city? That would be handier for me than the UK or Paris for that matter. :) Congrats on your book! youhou \o/ <- me cheering

    Comment by Vanessa — March 14, 2008 @ 1:55 pm

  7. I was interested to read the Marie Claire article which has published Tadpole’s name – I was just wondering if this was intentional or if they messed up? Was strange seeing her refered to as something other than Tadpole!!!

    Comment by A — March 14, 2008 @ 2:30 pm

  8. I thought that you might be interested that Petite Anglaise is currently the fourth best seller, and the only hardback in the first eight, at my local bookshop in Parsons Green, West London. Ahead are The Good Schools Guide 2008 at No 1 (which says everything about the area), Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen (currently Book of the Week on BBC4) at No 2 and at No 3 Blood River by Tim Butler (which is a Richard & Judy Book Club 2008 Award Winner). So pretty good, eh?

    Comment by Mark — March 14, 2008 @ 2:58 pm

  9. @7 – it’s not her real name… It didn’t seem appropriate to use the Mr Frog and Tadpole pseudos in that context, so I invented their names instead. I suggested MC mention that names had been changed, but for some reason they chose not to do so…

    Comment by petite — March 14, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

  10. You invented ‘them names’?

    Petite, I’m shocked!

    Comment by Jacqueline — March 14, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

  11. The plot thickens – I wish they’d explain things like that! Although the name you chose is lovely and is just what I would imagine Tadpole to be called!

    Comment by A — March 14, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

  12. Meh.

    Allow me to make the odd typo, especially in my comments box.

    Or perhaps it was an intententional Yorkshire-ism?

    Comment by petite — March 14, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

  13. Sadly I am almost at the end of your book. I’ve been rationing myself (well I was a war child) to a chapter at bed-time and have been entirely rapt. What happened to you with James happened to me aged 19, and I then married in haste. How was I to know that 30 years later he would turn up again and we’d fall in love all over again. I have only lately come to your blog so am not sure where you are at romantically, and you are far more sensible than I was. But take care:)

    Comment by Pat — March 14, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

  14. So, will the Paris reading be in French or English? Is the French-translated version of the book out yet?

    I’m intrigued!

    Comment by Clare — March 14, 2008 @ 6:07 pm

  15. Oh dear god, no, Clare. The clue is in the fact that I’m doing it at WH Smiths…

    I haven’t sold petite in France yet but am actively working on that at the moment.

    Comment by petite — March 14, 2008 @ 6:33 pm

  16. Aren’t you just supposed to imagine everyone on the toilet in public-speaking circumstance? Gross, but effective! (maybe you could have a ‘great looking blokes only’ policy to your readings to help things along?)

    Comment by girlwiththemask — March 14, 2008 @ 6:36 pm

  17. Quite independently of this I have just seen the Claude Berri film: la separation (all lowercase for some reason and I don’t have an accented e on my keyboard). My goodness the similarities are spooky

    Comment by Trevor — March 14, 2008 @ 6:57 pm

  18. I read it with a Yorkshire accent as well!

    My husband bought my copy of PA in Heathrow today, after much frantic texting (‘don’t get on that plane without it!); so I may shortly have the honour of having the first copy in the region I currently live in.


    Comment by Jacqueline — March 14, 2008 @ 7:09 pm

  19. Oy you edited.

    Now I look like a nutter. A pedantic, grammar obsessed one at that. How un-cool.

    Comment by Jacqueline — March 14, 2008 @ 7:12 pm

  20. Re girlwiththemask

    You honestly think Petite would concentrate on her reading with a room full of naked good looking blokes regardless of if they were on the toilet or not????

    Petite best thing I can suggest is remember that all the people that turn up will be doing so cos they like you just the way you and your writing are – wallow in it!

    Comment by Andrew — March 14, 2008 @ 7:37 pm

  21. It sounds like you’re concentrating on ‘you’ when you do the readings, rather than just letting it happen.

    If you just let it happen and be yourself, the real ‘you’ will come shining through, whether that manifests itself as confidence or insecurity or contentment, the crowd will pick-up on it, but maybe that’s what brought them to see you in the first place.

    Remember to play with your crowd. When you’re giving the reading you are the performer, give them a performance to remember. We see a lot of people in our everyday lives, but it is often only the exceptional that we remember. A look, a sigh, or discomfort in manner, will often convey and compond sections of text that are being recited for their listening pleasure.

    And if you forget everything just enjoy yourself, be comfortable with the space you’re in, and if that fails, just imagine them all stood there naked. Always works for me. ;-)

    Comment by Steve... — March 14, 2008 @ 9:00 pm

  22. Catherine,
    After seeing the article in Mail on Sunday’s You magazine, I’ve spent the last few days looking through Petite’s archive and i’ve had so much fun! Thoroughly enjoyable and disapointing in some ways to now have got up to the present – March 08! I shall of course get a copy of your book. Best of luck.

    Comment by Vikki — March 14, 2008 @ 9:39 pm

  23. Here I am in the US getting v e r y impatient……..

    I hope your book is such a success over there that you will HAVE to come here to do public appearances too!!!! I’m close enough to NYC to go there; please come. Pretty please.

    Comment by linda from jersey (that's new jersey USA) — March 15, 2008 @ 12:16 am

  24. Were the buttocks your nan’s?

    Comment by Anna Johns — March 15, 2008 @ 1:06 am

  25. “I did however decline my first ever request to sign a pair of white buttocks.”

    How nice of JonnyB to travel all that way to support you!

    Comment by Damian — March 15, 2008 @ 10:07 am

  26. #17: To type diacritics (accents on characters), you have two options.

    (1) You can use the numeric keypad and ASCII numeric key combinations to produce accented letters (see webopedia at
    (2) Install the U.S.-International drivers, which use two- and three-key combinations. They are already on your computer and install in about two minutes through the control panel. You’ll find instructions at this link and a PDF with clear explanation and list of the key combinations here:

    Comment by Passante — March 15, 2008 @ 5:35 pm

  27. If I’d been home in Yorkshire I would have tried to get to York to hear you read. Seems quite revolutionary for Yorkshire – blogging, just like the Calendar Girls!

    Comment by Babycakes — March 15, 2008 @ 7:10 pm

  28. So looking forward to this evening (reading + wine!!)and hopefully getting two copies of your book signed (one for me and one for a blogger gilfriend of mine – actually I have met her at your bloggers’ evening on April 1st 2007!!)!
    See you Thursday!

    Comment by olga — March 15, 2008 @ 9:20 pm

  29. Can’t think how I got to your blog… I was browsing through sites on the Dordogne region, looking for places I could campaign for my favourite choice for mayor in Périgueux : Xavier Darcos, and leave my blog’s address…

    So I ended up spending some precious minutes reading your articles. Fortunately I had fun, and I won’t hold you any grudge for taking me away from my duty.

    Wished I could see you giving your presentation but believe it or not, I can’t afford the trip (yes, an other one of those interesting French guys who can just afford their coffee but not the croissant to go with it).

    Let me know if you come down to Périgueux (long time I haven’t had a croissant). There are a lot of English expats here in Périgord. By the way I know the owner of “French News” if you want me to talk to him (or his partner) about your book ; unless you have already done that. He is launching a new Dordogne supplement at the beginning of next month during a business event in Périgueux set up for English expats.

    Bonne chance pour jeudi et bonne chance pour le livre. Je vais essayer de me le procurer.

    Comment by William Lesourd — March 15, 2008 @ 9:54 pm

  30. Hi
    I found your blog after seeing you on Look North last week, I can’t believe I missed it as I have been actively seeking a new blog to read as I am a blog addict. (Nosy by nature?)
    I LOVED it, I have read it from start to finish (including most comments)
    I ordered your book yesterday, which arrived this morning (one click on is amazingly efficient) and have relegated the housework to a back seat for the next few days.
    I want to say that you write very well, and it is refreshing to read such honest and open posts.
    I love the French sentences you include from Tadpole and Mr Frog, and I love the translations I get from babelfish! (My French is limited to ‘la maman est dans la cuisine’) I only wish I could babelfish the book! Although I must say that the translations I get are so out of context that I’m sure I would be better off just guessing.

    I hope you carry on with your blog and I will now have to just wait for each post as it arrives instead of having 3+ years to read through at my leisure.

    P.s I read it all with a Yorkshire accent.

    Comment by Posh int Harrogate — March 16, 2008 @ 12:52 am

  31. Hello

    I know that feeling so well . I did my First teaching assignment at the university . Two classes a day 30 plus students in each class. I didn’t throw up , but I almost got in my truck and left ;-))) I think I went to the restroom 20 times before each class that first day, and could have used a few beers . Oh and each class was 3 hours of lecture . THREE HOURS !!!!!

    Most of the students were 20 to 30 years older than me too. It was a small business class …

    In the second class I had goofed up my notes and after 3 or 4 minutes ( which seemed like a hour ) of trying to get the in order I called a break .

    I did get better , But public speaking is a trauma . I think I heard people are more afraid to give a speech than death…

    Can’t wait for your book to get here :-)))))


    Comment by ==Alaska — March 16, 2008 @ 9:29 am

  32. Dearest Petite just to say that I had d glimpse of publicity about My blog and book ‘Johnny-and-me’which is going to be published May/June 2008 in Greece!.The Greek Sunday Newspaper had an article about my blog and book!! Hooray ..Hooray You are the leader of the Gang and I am following!!

    Comment by penelope — March 16, 2008 @ 1:00 pm

  33. So sorry I can’t come to Paris on Thursday. I did enjoy the book and wrote a review on Amazon as I was so disappointed to read the (in my view unjustified) criticism.
    It’s great to be able to follow the whirl of excitement that your life has become ‘in real time’ but I hope you allow yourself plenty of relaxation as well.

    Comment by sablonneuse — March 16, 2008 @ 1:25 pm

  34. Ooh! Reading aloud in PUBLIC (gulp)! An unforeseen drawback to being a successful blogger. I’m glad my blog is unnoticed for that reason alone!

    Comment by Peggy — March 16, 2008 @ 6:16 pm

  35. Were the buttocks your nan’s?

    Comment by jluc — March 16, 2008 @ 6:37 pm

  36. Hi Catherine,
    You don’t know me, and I actually only just heard about you this morning, but I thought you might want to know that you made the front page of the Arts section of a Canadian newspaper.
    Most people spend all of their lives kissing ass, and trying not to say things that will get them into trouble, keeping their head down and collecting their mediocre paycheck. I love the fact that blogging anonymously allows us to get around that inhibition, and that in your case, being caught with your foot in your mouth is the best thing that could have happened to you.
    Congrats on your first reading, and I’m looking forward to the release of your book.

    Comment by Malice Blackheart — March 16, 2008 @ 9:19 pm

  37. Bonsoir petite,
    I came to your blog quite late, through my best friend Jelly Head (“Tronche Molle”) who like me moved from France to London about 7 years ago. Your love of Paris and all things French reminds me of mine for London: I also have my own Mr Rosbif to prove it but no little one yet, which is just as well as I’m not sure what I could call it (lil’lamb?). Anyway, your book was devoured in two sittings and I look forward to the next one (if your interview with TF1 last year is anything to go by: Shame I missed your signings in London, will try to send ma petite soeur to the Paris one to get me another copy!
    Take care,

    Comment by Fab — March 16, 2008 @ 11:04 pm

  38. See you there?

    I hope I’ll be able to make it..

    I want my own signed copy of the HardCover Book ,)

    Comment by Thierry_J — March 17, 2008 @ 9:33 am

  39. I hope they already have the hardback version in Smith’s because I’m today in Paris but won’t be on thursday anymore.
    I have a long train trip tonight and I already know what I am going to read !

    Comment by Delphine in Antibes — March 17, 2008 @ 12:05 pm

  40. Looks like you have a lot of very happy people reading your blog and book. your are very brave to read form it! I always think the nice thing about being a writer is that you are on your own, hidden behind your writing. the thought of actually having to do all that press etc is terrifying, just aswell no one is interested in me!!
    Bon chance!

    Comment by Vikki — March 17, 2008 @ 12:29 pm

  41. Petite,
    Have just finished reading your book. Will put a review on my own blog by the end of the week. Just wanted to say, you have written a good book, I really enjoyed it!
    People may hate me for what I am about to say next but, every interview I have seen you in (through the links on your blog) you seem very shy and almost apologetic for what has happened, i.e. that your life turned out the way it has, that you got fired and now have a brilliant book deal out of it. You should lift your head more, look people in the eye (if possible wear contacts because I think you look better without and are less likely to hide behind your glasses), smile and talk with confidence. Paris is likely to be your best crowd because there will be lots of expats, your target audience, unlike in the UK where some people may not really be able to identify with the expat life, so there is all the more reason to be confident. I know it’s easy to say, but try not to worry about what people think about you, most people who will be there will be there because they have great admiration for your blog and book.
    You said in your book that you felt like a different person in your blogging soirées because Petite was a better version of yourself, almost like a different person. Well, Petite may be the blog but Catherine wrote the book, both of which are very good. I may not know Catherine but as someone who has suceeded in overcoming events over the last two years, she should show through on Thursday, chin up, smiling and proud!!

    Comment by laroseanglaise — March 17, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

  42. Hi petite

    I took “them” as “for them”, so I wouldn’t worry

    Any news on whether Borders will be shipping any copies to Malaysia?


    Comment by Outolokowski — March 17, 2008 @ 6:01 pm

  43. Re: article in El País today:
    I hope the journalist meant “bytes”…
    She starts off by saying that your digital narrator (petite anglaise) turned your life upside down by managing to get you sacked, seducing a handsome English translator and giving you the courage to cheat on and leave your daughter’s father.
    Another snippet says “Love, infidelity and bed scenes: an infallible cocktail”. She describes your writing as “Digital literature, agile and somewhat foul-mouthed” (?)
    She also said you had an “angelical face” and that you were “tall”, that you continuously slip in French expressions when you talk…
    Overall though, she sounded impressed!!
    If you want, I can translate it all for you

    Comment by happyforyou — March 17, 2008 @ 9:56 pm

  44. To be honest, we never met, and I was interviewed in pidgin English over the phone. I think there were quite a few misunderstandings in there!

    Comment by petite — March 17, 2008 @ 10:15 pm

  45. Petite, can I just say that having only recently become a fan of yours I think it is really heartwarming that the comments you get on your site are all so encouranging and thoughtful. You have really impressed people it would seem! And captured the imagination of a nation too. You must be very proud.

    I’d love for you to check out my site

    Good luck with your sales!


    Comment by girlwiththemask — March 17, 2008 @ 11:13 pm

  46. Hi, petite,

    You need a smile. Here it is:


    Comment by Alethea — March 17, 2008 @ 11:37 pm

  47. If Petite doesn’t post something soon, I will be forced to do some work.


    Comment by miss london — March 18, 2008 @ 5:52 am

  48. Hello Petite. I hope Thursday goes really well and that you get lots of people. I have just ordered my signed copy be e-mail to WH Smith France – hopefully the paperwork will have happened and you will come across my request on the night. I shall certainly be with you in spirit. I have, of course, already had one of the first copies from Amazon, and posted a review on their web site, so this will be a copy to treasure rather than read.

    Comment by pierre l — March 18, 2008 @ 9:37 am

  49. I’ve been reading your blog for years now but have never commented. Being someone who also lives in a city – London – (and country, for that matter) other than her home, and one who’s infatuated with Paris – well, you can see the appeal.

    And as it happens, I will, in fact, be in Paris this Thursday on a little getaway from work and so will probably stop by WHS that evening. It will be nice to see you live after having read your blog for so long.

    Comment by Nora — March 18, 2008 @ 9:57 am

  50. I saw your interview on Breakfast TV and didn’t think you lacked confidence at all and held your own – as I would expect any Yorkshire woman to do. I don’t think – after speaking on your home ground – anything will faze you. And I like your glasses – much better than the starey look some presenters have wearing lenses.
    I’m sad I have finished your book but will now go back to the archives. I wonder if you write about the creating of the book. That would be fascinating to those of us with aspirations.

    Comment by Pat — March 18, 2008 @ 10:33 am

  51. I love Arrogant Frog, probably just because of the name.

    I got over my fear of public speaking by realizing that there is almost no chance of someone being in the audience that is better acquainted with the material than I am.

    Comment by Steve — March 18, 2008 @ 12:42 pm

  52. Hi,

    A newcommer to your blog, and how i wish i had arrived earlier.

    My blog seems to be taking off in a similar fashion to your own, so i thouht i ought to stop by an expert in these matters.

    Enjoyed reading a few posts, and will be back to continue. Certainly differnet from the norm.

    on’t suppose your book deal signing will bring you to the Isle of Man will it?

    Comment by babooshka — March 19, 2008 @ 12:02 am

  53. Have to say I am terrified at the prospect of having to do it. Was utterly awful having to open a barn recently and expect readings to be worse.

    Comment by wifey — March 26, 2008 @ 7:12 pm

  54. you said ‘ring sting’ on air? kudos :-)

    Comment by Globus — March 27, 2008 @ 5:20 pm

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